Music » Livewire

Firewater

With Black-Eyed Snakes. Wednesday, September 26, at the Grog Shop.

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Since bailing out of Cop Shoot Cop, bassist Tod Ashley's musical life has been a mixed bag of genres and modes of execution. Rather than lock into an actual band, Ashley conceived Firewater with a rotating cast of alt-rock misfits who dance to his oddly satisfying tunes. On Firewater's 1996 debut, Get Off the Cross We Need the Wood, the band sounds like a crashingly discordant, furious punk-klezmer unit, perhaps signifying that Ashley was still incredibly close to Cop Shoot Cop. With 1998's The Ponzi Scheme, Ashley moved some players around (particularly ex-Hugo Largo violinist Hahn Rowe and ex-Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Denison) while becoming more mature and focused as a songwriter and arranger. On Firewater's latest release, Psychopharmacology, Ashley further refines his edgy sound without losing the quirky elements that have distinguished it in the past. Rather than skipping from style to style, Ashley has succeeded in incorporating bits and phrases from his previous psychedelic-ethnic-folk gumbo into a more cohesive and almost-pop sound. He retains allusions to Tom Waits, Frank Zappa, Morphine, and Camper Van Beethoven while absorbing these reference points and effectively channeling them into his own vision. The one area of constancy is Ashley's brutally perfect wordplay, as his lyrics are at once hysterical and tragic, with Dylan-like cadence. Ashley's band history and his work with Firewater both indicate an unwillingness to compromise for anything as fleeting as commercial acceptance. His ability to present disturbing lyrical imagery, cloaked in melodies that teeter between pop prettiness and gothic weirdness, gives Firewater a luster that deepens with each successive release.

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